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Suspected gunman in Chicago-area shooting hit with first-degree murder charges

The Lake County Sheriff's Office said the shooter unloaded more than 70 rounds into the crowd during a Fourth of July parade.

CHICAGO (CN) — Lake County State's Attorney Eric Rinehart announced Tuesday evening that his office is charging the suspected gunman in a Chicago-area Fourth of July parade shooting with seven counts of first-degree murder. And that’s just to start.

"These are just the first of many charges that will be filed against Mr. Crimo," Rinehart said at a Tuesday evening press conference. "I want to emphasize that. There will be more charges."

The shooting occurred around 10 a.m. Monday morning in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, during the town's Fourth of July parade. Seven people were killed, with more than 30 wounded. Police recovered a rifle, the suspected shooting weapon, from the roof of a building near the parade route. Police took Robert Crimo III, a white 21-year-old local resident, into custody on Monday night in the nearby town of Lake Forest, Illinois, after a brief chase.

Nancy Rotering, the mayor of Highland Park, said Tuesday morning she believes Crimo acquired his weapon legally. A few hours later, local police confirmed the "high-powered rifle" believed to have been used in the attack was legal.

"The rifle was purchased in Illinois, and the information we have thus far is that it appears to have been purchased legally by Crimo," Lake County Sheriff's Office spokesman Christopher Covelli said in a Tuesday morning press conference.

Covelli also said law enforcement believed the shooting had been planned well in advance.

"We do believe Crimo preplanned for several weeks. He brought a high-powered rifle to this parade, he accessed the roof of a business via a fire escape ladder, and began opening fire on the innocent Independence Day celebrationgoers," he said.

Covelli further explained that police think Crimo acted alone, abandoning the rifle after firing more than 70 rounds into the crowd and escaping the scene amid the chaos while disguised in women’s clothes. He was apprehended several hours later after the Lake County Sheriff's Office put out an alert on his vehicle, reportedly registered to his mother. A witness spotted the vehicle and called 911, leading to his arrest in Lake Forest following a traffic stop and brief chase conducted by police from the nearby town of North Chicago. Inside the vehicle, Covelli said police recovered a second rifle.

Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering said Crimo was in her Cub Scout pack as a child, describing him as once having been "a sweet little boy" in an interview with CBS.

"I'm not sure what happened to him to compel him to commit this kind of evil in his hometown," Rotering said.

Numerous public officials offered their condolences in the wake of the shooting, including Illinois U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth as well as Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and President Joe Biden, all Democrats. On Tuesday morning, Biden ordered flags be flown at half mast in mourning of the tragedy.

During her interview with CBS, Rotering voiced concern over the relative ease with which Crimo was able to obtain a rifle.

"We need to have a very real national conversation about why we're OK with allowing weapons of war on our streets, and why we're OK with weekly having mass shootings," Rotering said. Pritzker likewise said Monday afternoon that the "madness" of mass shootings "must stop."

Members of the FBI's evidence response team organize in downtown Highland Park, Ill., on Tuesday, July 5, 2022, one day after a mass shooting during an Independence Day parade. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Covelli said in another Tuesday afternoon press conference that Crimo had legally purchased five guns total between 2020 and 2021, including the two rifles, an unstated number of handguns and possibly a shotgun. Prior to Monday, he said the Highland Park Police Department had responded to incidents involving Crimo on two occasions.

The first occurred in April 2019, when police responded to a delayed report that Crimo had attempted suicide a week earlier. No law enforcement action was taken at the time, and Covelli said Crimo was in the care of mental health care professionals.

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A second incident took place in September 2019, when one of Crimo's family members told police Crimo planned "to kill everyone" and that he had a collection of knives. Covelli said police removed 16 knives, a dagger and a sword from Crimo's home and informed the Illinois State Police of the incident but lacked probable cause to make any arrests.

"Police can't make an arrest unless there is probable cause to make an arrest or somebody is willing to sign complaints regarding the arrest," Covelli said.

To legally purchase a gun in Illinois, one needs to be approved for an Illinois Firearm Owners Identification, or FOID, card. When pushed by reporters Tuesday afternoon as to why Crimo was allowed to receive a FOID card and legally purchase five weapons after the incident in 2019, Covelli deferred to the Illinois State Police, which oversees the FOID card application process.

Illinois State Police spokeswoman Delilah Garcia confirmed that the ISP did receive word about the knives from Highland Park PD in September 2019, but said at the time Crimo did not have a pending FOID application that the incident could have influenced.

"He didn't have a pending application, so there was nothing to review at that time when we got that notification. We didn't know a few months later that something else would happen," Garcia said.

She did not answer why the knives incident didn't bar Crimo from obtaining a FOID card when he applied for one several months later.

Covelli also confirmed Tuesday evening that Crimo applied for his FOID card before turning 21, meaning he would have needed the sponsorship of a parent or legal guardian per Illinois state law. He declined to comment further on the issue.

Six people were killed at the scene of the shooting, and at least 38 others were taken to area hospitals with varying levels of injury. An official with the Lake County Coroner's Office confirmed a seventh individual died of their injuries outside Lake County on Tuesday. The office also stated that the six initial victims were aged 35 to 88, including a 78-year-old Mexican national.

Representatives of the NorthShore University HealthSystem, one of the major hospital operators in the area, did not respond to request for comment.

"The people who were gone, were blown up by that gunfire, blown up," said Dr. David Braum in a Tuesday morning interview with CNN. Bruam is a local doctor who attended the parade and helped treat the wounded. "The horrific scene of some of the bodies is unspeakable for the average person."

Prior to the shooting, Crimo was an online rap artist going by the handle "Awake the Rapper," with a repertoire of over 30 songs and music videos on YouTube and Spotify. Both platforms announced Tuesday that they were scrapping his content, such as a rough animation for his song "Toy Soldier" that shows a man firing a rifle at people before he himself is shot by police and left lying in a pool of blood.

“I need to just do it. It is my destiny,” Crimo narrates in another of his animated videos entitled "Are You Awake."

Despite Crimo's ominous social media posts, Covelli said police have not yet ascribed a particular motive to the shooting.

Rinehart said that his office will pursue "dozens more charges" against Crimo, including aggravated battery and attempted murder. Rinehart said the goal was for Crimo to face a mandatory life sentence without parole, should he be convicted.

"All of the people who died steps from here lost their freedom. All of it... their freedom matters too," Rinehart said Tuesday evening.

John Lausch, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, declined to comment on whether Crimo would also face federal charges. He called the initial seven charges of first-degree murder "very appropriate."

"This is an ongoing investigation and it really wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment any further at this time," Lausch told reporters Tuesday evening. "The charges right now, these are very appropriate charges right now."

Crimo remains in the custody of the Lake County Sheriff's Office. He is expected to appear in bond court Wednesday morning, and prosecutors are expected to request he be held without bail.

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